Dark hills at evening in the west,
Where sunset hovers like a sound
Of golden horns that sang to rest
Old bones of warriors under ground,
Far now from all the bannered ways
Where flash the legions of the sun,
You fade—as if the last of days
Were fading, and all wars were done.
The Dark Hills, by Edwin Arlington Robinson
That’s always been my favourite poem, ever since I first read it as a teenager and put it to memory.
It’s a poem with more than one level of meaning, including the most obvious one that usually brings Second World War General Douglas McArthur to mind – mine, anyway. I don’t know if he was recalling this poem when he uttered his famous, “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away” line in his farewell address to Congress after being relieved of command during the Korea War by President Harry Truman.
If so, his sentimental reference didn’t do justice to a great poem.
Though it certainly works on the literal level, it’s always moved me – and I hesitate to risk breaking the spell by trying to explain what really doesn’t require explanation and, God forbid, analysis – on a deeper level of pathos that speaks to being alive in the world, and then the end of it. Perhaps even the end of all things.
That may sound morbid. But I sometimes find myself, like tonight as sunset approached here at Cathedral Drive Farm, reciting it quietly over and over to myself, for spiritual consolation.
It’s comforting as well to know that their was a man – an American, by the way – who once lived in the world and was so wonderfully inspired to write such a great poem, so simple and accessible, yet so utterly, and mysteriously profound.
I am reminded of my favourite moment in music, a few minutes into the first movement of Sergei Prokoviev’s last piano sonata, the 9th. I first heard that too as a teenager listening to a recording of it played by Sviatoslav Richter. Prokoviev dedicated the work to Richter.
I am approaching an age now where the poem is becoming more meaningful for me, and the state of the world, which I confess I find depressing. But that’s not helpful, either for me or the world. So I’ve got to do something about that.
And one thing I do, perhaps too often, is bear witness here to the reason why I, and, I think, a lot of other people are also feeling discouraged about hopeful prospects for the future. Continue reading